Not every spinal cord injury happens due to a fall or a car accident. A blood clot in the spine, also known as a spinal stroke, can also cause spinal cord injuries. Julie, a 180 Medical Community member, shares her story of how she sustained a spinal cord injury (SCI) due to a blood clot as well as how far she has come since then.
Breast Cancer Surgery Leads to an Unexpected Outcome
Julie’s journey all began with a diagnosis of breast cancer at the age of 46. In combination with some other therapeutic approaches, she would need to have a mastectomy (removal of the breast) to remove the entirety of the mass.
After the procedure was over, Julie’s healthcare providers began waking her up from her anesthesia. They were surprised when they saw her right hand was still limp as they took out her IV.
Next, they attempted to get her to sit up. However, she fell over. She had no control of her trunk, and now her legs weren’t working either.
“I would learn the next day that a blood clot had gone to my cervical spine at C7-C8,” says Julie. This spinal cord injury caused some lower body paralysis and also impacted the dexterity of her right-hand fingers and thumb.
“As the swelling decreased, my left leg woke back up, but my right leg still had significant weaknesses. As with most cervical spinal cord injuries, my bowel, bladder, and sexual functions were also affected.”
Rehabilitation and Recovery After Spinal Stroke
Julie went through six weeks of acute rehab at Sharp Medical Center in San Diego, California. After that, she transferred to QLI, a world-class rehabilitation center in Omaha, Nebraska, for subacute rehab for eight more weeks.
So what’s the difference exactly between acute and subacute rehabilitation? Acute rehabilitation is generally a bit more intensive and will take up more hours in the day. Patients may go through a combination of physical, occupational, and speech therapy.
Subacute therapy, on the other hand, is a bit less intense. Patients will receive anywhere from one to three hours of ongoing therapy to help recover function or learn to navigate the world with their new injury.
Julie has also continued going to outpatient rehab for two years through AbilityKC, a non-profit center, and St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute in Kansas City.
The impact that rehabilitation therapy has had on Julie’s life is absolutely remarkable. She went from a power chair to a manual chair. Then, she moved on to using a walker to forearms crutches to a cane and hiking poles.
Learning to Use a Catheter as a Female with a Spinal Cord Injury
Part of acclimating to a spinal cord injury often involves learning how to use catheters. This condition impacts the nerves leading to the bladder, which can result in issues like urinary incontinence and urinary bladder retention.
Julie admits, “Learning to use a catheter was an awkward and maddening process since my right hand was also affected by my spinal cord injury” However, using catheters with limited hand dexterity is still possible for some.
First, she started by using a catheter in bed. With time and practice, Julie began to progress. All in all, it took 15 weeks before she could self-cath independently on the toilet. “I still use a mirror to get it right, but I’ve gotten pretty efficient at doing it now.”
“I have also recovered my bowel control, and some of my bladder control has returned,” Julie shares. This may be due in part to ongoing tibial nerve stimulation therapy, which may help with issues like urinary incontinence and urinary bladder retention. Plus, since her bladder function has improved some, she no longer needs to use a catheter every time she goes to the bathroom.
Julie’s Tips for Learning to Cath After Spinal Cord Injury
After her experience with learning to cath, Julie has some tips that she hopes could help other women new to spinal cord injuries, including those who are starting to use catheters for the first time.
Tip 1. Practice and don’t give up.
First, Julie says to keep practicing.
“You’ll get very intimate with your anatomy. But soon, it will be a lot like putting in a tampon.” In other words, while it may seem difficult or challenging at first, eventually it will be just like any other common self-care task.
Tip 2. Learn how you might help prevent UTIs.
Many people with spinal cord injuries are no strangers to urinary tract infections (UTIs). Women are even more susceptible to UTIs, which may be due in part to the shorter length of their urethra.
Julie likes to stay on top of UTI prevention by taking supplements, including probiotics, D-mannose, and cranberry supplements.
Talk to your doctor about ways you may be able to help prevent UTIs.
Tip 3. Consider adding pelvic floor exercises.
Julie says that adding pelvic floor therapy to her daily routine has been a game-changer for her.
Exercises such as Kegels may help strengthen the pelvic floor, which may help reduce issues like urinary incontinence.
Tip 4. Find a catheter that works for you.
Not every type of catheter works for everyone. If the current catheter you’re using hurts, is difficult to handle, or is generally not working well for you, you should explore your options and find what will work for you.
Julie likes the Cure Twist Catheter the best. “It’s easy to get the top off, compact like a tampon, easy to aim, and goes in smoothly without needing extra lubrication.”
If you’re ready to explore your catheter options, contact 180 Medical.
“180 Medical always delivers my monthly order on time,” says Julie. One month, she was worried about running out when she had to increase the number of catheters she used per day due to a UTI. 180 Medical’s Specialists promptly sent out an order of samples to help tide her over.
Tip 5. Accept What Is and Stay Positive.
It can be difficult for people new to their spinal cord injuries to accept what has happened and what that means for their life.
After her spinal cord injury due to a spinal stroke, Julie had to do this too. Plus, she learned to ask for and receive help, which wasn’t always easy. “I was very independent-minded pre-injury,” says Julie. “My nurses and aides who helped me with all my bodily functions gave me that lesson.”
Also, keeping a positive attitude was especially helpful for her, especially on difficult days.
“Thanks to my training as a life coach, I was able to view my SCI as an obstacle that was there to propel my growth as a human being — not a punishment,” Julie says. “Accepting what is helped me find a lot more peace. I learned to trust my progress even when it was minuscule by staying focused only on the very next step — not 10 or more steps along the recovery path.”
Moving Forward After Spinal Stroke
Today, Julie continues to stay strong and as healthy as she can through activities like pilates, yoga, and therapeutic horseback riding.
She works as a business and life coach, helping small business owners learn to be adaptable and resilient in the face of uncertainty. She also writes as a form of meditation and teaches workshops on this as a mind-body healing method.
Resources like the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and United 2 Fight Paralysis have been a huge help to her in adjusting to life with a spinal cord injury. And of course, she has never forgotten the role that QLI and Ability KC played in her recovery.
Lastly, one thing she credits most is the enduring love of her “amazing husband and two incredible kids, ages, 21 and 19. They were my main support system as I recovered and adjusted back into my life.”
We’re so proud to have such an inspiring woman like Julie in the 180 Medical community.